Logos Multilingual Portal

11 - Adaptation - second part

«Al parecer dos o tres profesores [...] que se distraían furtivamente [...] en aquellos momentos se apresuraron a esconder sus ejemplares bajo la toga»1.

"Apparently, two or three of the professors [...] who were at the moment entertaining themselves on the sly [...] rapidly concealed their copies under their gowns"2.

Two points should result as established from what was said in the previous unit. The adaptation of a text concerns mainly its unsaid portion, i.e. the implicit features of the text as part of a culture. And the fact that two poles exist that catalyze views of the possible attitudes: adapting the text to the reader, adapting the reader to the text.
  Let us start from the problem of the unsaid. In order to elucidate the problem of the unsaid, it is indispensable to make reference to the notion of "culture", because the unsaid is a very specific, subjective, community-specific, temporary and, on a more general scale, culture-specific phenomenon. When we say "culture", we mean, above all, a peculiar (not universal) way of perceiving reality, a perception that, as we saw in the second part of the course, does not have anything objective.
  An empirical and simple way to record how reality is catalogued - in an implicit way - in the different cultures is the structure of a newspaper. The news is not represented pell-mell, it is divided into specific categories: national/international/local politics, editorials, entertainment, opinions, sports and so on. In a similar way, there is an inclination to use given categories, within a culture, into which the perceived reality is habitually broken down - often in an implicit way, taking the categorization for granted. Some newspapers devote one page to economy, others more than one and, just for that reason, they don''t call them "economy", but divide the subject more specifically into "stock exchange", "finance", "business news" etc. Some newspapers have a boating page; others have one on mountain climbing. In the latter case, a news item that would appear, if there were one, on the "boating" page is published, for lack of better place, in a generic space, maybe with general news, or sports. The reality reflected by these newspapers is the same, but the reading given is different, if only due to the different categorization3.
  Any text can be considered as being composed of two components: what is said/written/expressed (explicit) and what is not explicitly said/written/expressed because it is taken for granted (implicit). The unsaid is obtainable from the context, i.e. from the culture in which the utterance is placed.
  The possibility to avoid always saying everything is an invaluable communication resource. Just think of a conductor getting on the train and saying: "Tickets, please!" If he were supposed to explicit the unsaid, he should make a very long speech: "This is a train of the X company. To board, one should have a document, consisting of [..]. Since someone could not have such a document, I am sent, paid, by the X Company to control ... So you are now obliged to [...]". In this intralingual explicitating translation of the message expressed by the conductor, many elements are taken for granted anyhow (just as an example, the notion of "money"). From the above example it should be clear that the unsaid part of the message can constitute a substantial (and often, the greater) part.
  Different cultures attribute different functions to the unsaid portion of a message. Their implicit content varies according to the varying environmental context. The utterance

I had breakfast

inserted into the Italian culture context has an unsaid content concretizable, for example, into a cup of coffee with or without milk, maybe a croissant or bread, butter and jam. The same utterance, inserted into the Anglo-Saxon cultural context, can easily recall different foods: Fruit juice, eggs and bacon, and a coffee that is roasted differently and is wetter than the Italian espresso. As seen in this gastronomic example, the unsaid can make up a really substantial part of the message.
  Differences between cultures allow whole categories of objects or phenomena present in one culture to be completely lacking in another. When an activity is particularly important, when a subject draws the attention of many people, notions revolving around such activities or subjects are much more refined and specific. In a Mediterranean culture, for example, characterized by the presence or the proximity to the sea, all that has to do with sea life is describable in much more precise terms than in a culture where the sea is present just as a remote element. The fact that a category exists in a culture, occupying a given space of sense, modifies the way in which that population tends to express its concepts. Verbal expression is a cognitive process that, as such, is subject to ''economical'' laws urging reuse - as much as possible - previous cognitive experiences.
  When, for an individual, a phenomenon is implicit from birth, it is often hard to realize that it exists, so ''normal'' is its presence. As we saw in the first part of the course, the child (or the adult) that has been speaking his mother tongue forever does not acknowledge the functioning of this language unless he starts to reason in metalingual terms (i.e. starts to study the grammar of his mother tongue, wondering the reasons of a mechanism that has always worked ''on its own'')4. A further leap in knowledge, maybe even more meaningful, consists in the study of a language different from the mother tongue: the comparison between two languages emphasizes the differences, and features of the mother tongue once taken for granted are now perceived as distinctive traits, as aspects that are presented in a certain way but could be different, and that in other languages are different.
  Something similar, as far as the path of the individual towards self-consciousness, occurs with the implicit in a culture, made not only of linguistic implicit features but also of extra-lingual conceptual categories.
  The knowledge of the workings of a language is obtained from the direct or indirect contact with other cultures and from the acknowledgement of their diversity. For example, living in a system where everything "different" is banned (censored, denied, unknown), one often forms the illusion (experienced as certainty, however) that all the world is equal to one''s own system: one takes for granted that all the world functions like her/his microcosm: a sort of parochialism, to put it bluntly. Knowing different cultures means - above all - understanding that one''s own classification of reality is not the only one possible, that in other cultures there are not only different phenomena but also different categories hard to imagine from within one''s own.
  Translation is the adaptation between two cultures. I purposely use the formulation "adaptation between" (instead of "adaptation of... into...") because I want, for the time being, to remain neutral about which culture should adapt itself and for what the adaptation occurs. This is one of the keys to distinguishing translation attitudes as a function of the polarization hinted at in the beginning of this unit: adapting the text to the reader, versus adapting the reader to the text. We will deal with that in the next unit.


Bibliographical references

DELABASTITA D. There''s a Double Tongue. An Investigation into the Translation of Shakespeare Wordplay with Special Reference to Hamlet. Amsterdam-Atlanta (Georgia), Rodopi, 1993, ISBN 90-5183-495-0.

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

1 Marías 2000, p. 79.
2 Marías 2001, p. 64.
3 unit 7 of part one
4 units 3 and 4 of part one